No one was surprised that the Titans decided to move on from running back Chris Johnson. Plenty were surprised by the timing, with the move coming on April 4, more than three weeks after the free-agency market opened.
Even though Johnson has joined the Jets, he has some lingering animosity toward the Titans for waiting so long. And he thinks it may have been deliberate.
“I think they was just being nasty to be honest,” Johnson told Alex Marvez and Keith Bulluck of SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday night. “I love Tennessee, I love my fans and all that, but I think at the end of the day [the Titans] did me wrong. And I don’t know if it was, ‘Oh, we’re gonna get revenge back on you for holding out’ when I held out the whole training camp [in 2011] or whatever. I feel like they already knew they were going in a different direction, and it just baffles me that you release me after free agency is over and you wait until a couple days [before] it’s time to show up for offseason workouts to let me go.”
Ostensibly, the Titans were hoping to trade Johnson. But it should have been clear even before the free-agency market opened on March 11 that the Titans wouldn’t be finding anyone to take Johnson’s $8 million base salary — especially with Johnson unwilling to reduce it by much.
That’s why it’s important to have contractual triggers early in the league year (like Johnson had in 2012 and 2013), forcing the team to make a decision in time for the player to hit the market while the money is still there. Ideally, the decision should have to be made in the days after the start of the annual waiver period, which begins after the Super Bowl. The next best alternative would be to have money come due early in the league year, in March.
Without a deadline (or with an annual crap-or-get-off-the-crapper deadline in April . . . cough . . . Colin Kaepernick . . . cough), the team has the power to be nasty and/or to do a guy wrong, because in reality the team is doing nothing wrong. The team is merely exercise its rights under the contract the player signed.
In this case, it’s hard to feel too sorry for Johnson, given that he made $30 million from August 2011 through December 2013 at a devalued position. But he’s nevertheless motivated to show the Titans they made a mistake.
“I’m gonna make them regret letting me go,” Johnson said. “They’re gonna regret it. Trust that.”
They’ll get a chance to regret it directly on December 14, when Johnson returns to Nashville for a game against the Titans.